Identity in practice: a sociocultural exploration of leadership learning and development

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A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of

the requirements of the Manchester

Metropolitan University for the degree of

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Faculty of Education

Education and Social Research Institute (ESRI)

Manchester Metropolitan University



This thesis presents a narrative study of leadership identity from a sociocultural perspective. Drawing on Bakhtinian, Vygotskian and Bourdieusian perspectives as a lens to conceptualise identity – Holland et al’s (1998) Agency and Identity in Cultural Worlds (figured worlds) – and argues that learning and development are intrinsically linked to identity construction as individuals, cultural forms, and social positions, come together in co-development, as identity in practice.

A thematic analysis, presented as stories from practice, illuminates and explores the contexts of identity construction, as narrated through: early life, childhood and youth; formal study and training; ‘learning moments’ from organisational life reflecting tensions of power, discourse and policy; and the influence of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ leaders – as heroes and villains – of leadership worlds.

Overall, a struggle between rhetorical discourses of leadership and organisational realities presented many contradictions to practice as identity work involved putting on ‘a professional mask’ to ‘act the part’ of a ‘tough’ invulnerable leader. Living life in the ‘gap’ between discourse and organisational realities was then often narrated as ‘a bit of

a mess’ as stories of tension, resistance and negotiation featured alongside reflections

on the complexity of organisational life and the ‘collision’ of professional and personal expectations. However, at times, leadership identity work also reflected a chance to

‘play the game’ and improvise new possibilities for practice narrated through stories of:

‘free-wheeling’, ‘winning’ and ‘rebelling’ against ‘bureaucratic’ cultures; ‘fighting for the

underdog’ against ‘aggressive, self-interested’ autocrats; challenging gender positioning

in a ‘man’s world’; and navigating ‘the dark side of leadership’ as a ‘good’ ethical leader authentically and emotionally ‘hidden’ behind the veil of identity performance.

In offering life history accounts that highlight the tensions, and the possibilities, of leadership identity work in practice, this research presents insights and contributions to growing debates across leadership studies, leadership and management development research, and the educational leadership field. Overall this thesis argues that identity work is an integral aspect of leadership practice, learning and development.



I offer my sincerest gratitude to those who have supported me during the doctoral journey. To the three participants of this study whose time and commitment made this research possible, I am truly grateful for the privilege of exploring your life histories and for the insights, experiences and ideas you kindly offered. To my supervisors, Dr Linda Hammersley-Fletcher and Dr Ian Barron, I am deeply thankful for the advice, wisdom, encouragement and unwavering support – both academically and emotionally – you continually offered and especially for helping me to find confidence and direction when I needed it the most!

I also wish to offer my gratitude to Professor Yvette Solomon (MMU) and fellow members of the Social Theories of Learning programme (University of Manchester) for our robust theoretical debates and to Dr Chris Hanley (MMU) for supporting me during the early stages of doctoral study. Furthermore, to colleagues, fellow academics and research students at MMU’s Education and Social Research Institute (ESRI), the University of Manchester, and fellow members of the British Educational Leadership, Management & Administration Society (BELMAS), my thanks for the many opportunities provided to exchange knowledge and ideas in addition to the good humour and great advice shared along the way. I also wish to extend my appreciation and thanks to Professor Megan Crawford and Dr Martin Needham for examination of this thesis and for the feedback, advice and encouragement given during the Viva Voce meeting.


To my ‘quiet’ supporters along the way; my family and friends – my loved ones – near and far, in my memories, across the oceans and within the stars, for everything you have taught me about living, surviving and thriving, I dedicate this thesis to you for such treasured companionship, patience, support, love and understanding. Without you, this journey would not have been possible.

Dr Fiona Creaby







Chapter Introduction ... 8

1.1. Rationale for the study ... 9

1.1.1. Background ... 9

1.1.2. Motivation ... 9

1.2: Situating the context of the research ... 11

1.2.1. Leadership perspectives ... 11

1.2.2. Identity and leadership development ... 14

1.2.3. Educational leadership... 15

1.2.4. What about management...? ... 16

1.3: Research focus and aims ... 18

1.3.1. The research statement ... 18

1.3.2. The research questions ... 18

1.4: Overview of the chapters ... 19

Chapter Summary ... 20


Chapter Introduction ... 22

2.1. Leadership: reviewing the literature ... 23

2.1.1. Leadership: a constructed and discursive concept ... 24

2.1.2. Dominant discourses of leadership ... 27

2.1.3. Calls for new approaches to leadership thinking and development ... 32

2.1.4. Leadership: summary ... 38

2.2. Identity in practice: framing a sociocultural perspective ... 39

2.2.1. The study of identity: an overview ... 39

2.2.2. Identity and agency in cultural worlds ... 41

2.2.3. Researching leadership identity in practice ... 54

2.2.4. Identity in practice: summary ... 57



Chapter Introduction ... 60

3.1. Philosophical stance ... 61

3.2. Narrative Inquiry in identity research ... 63

3.2.1. Life History Research ... 63

3.2.2. Life history narratives and figured worlds ... 64

3.3. Considerations in Narrative Inquiry ... 67

3.3.1. Trustworthiness, multi-vocality and reflexivity ... 68

3.3.2. Researcher position ... 71

3.4. Ethics ... 76

3.4.1. Ethical considerations ... 78

3.4.2. Informed consent ... 78

3.4.3. Anonymity and member-checking ... 80

3.4.4. Statement of researcher responsibility ... 81

3.5. Data Collection ... 82

3.5.1. Approaching and selecting participants ... 82

3.5.2. Interviews ... 83

3.6. Data Analysis Approach ... 86

3.6.1. Analysing the data – a thematic approach ... 88

3.6.2. Analysing the data – the process ... 90

3.6.3. Reflections on the data analysis process ... 94

Chapter Summary ... 96


Chapter Introduction ... 98

Introducing the participants ... 100

4.1: Stories of early life ... 105

4.2: Stories of organisational life ... 126

4.3: Stories of study and training ... 170

4.4: Stories of influential others ... 191

4.5: Stories of managing the ‘leader’ image ... 221



Chapter Introduction ... 262

5.1. Answering the research questions ... 263

5.1.1. Constructing leadership identity in practice: Question 1 ... 263

5.1.2. Leadership identity in practice: Question 2 ... 269

5.2: Contribution ... 279

5.2.1. Sharing the contributions ... 281

5.2.2. Limitations of the study ... 283

5.3: Reflections on the research journey ... 284

Concluding Remarks ... 287



Appendix 1. Participant Information Letter ... 314

Appendix 2. Ethical approval ... 318

Appendix 3. Participant background form ... 319

Declaration of Authorship

I declare that the work presented within this thesis is entirely my own, except where explicit attribution is made, in accordance with Manchester Metropolitan University regulations. The copyright rests with me as the author and prior written consent must be obtained directly from me before any quotation, or other information derived from this thesis, is published. © Fiona Creaby – June 2016.


Chapter One


Chapter Introduction ... 8

1.1. Rationale for the study ... 9

1.1.1. Background ... 9

1.1.2. Motivation ... 9

1.2: Situating the context of the research ... 11

1.2.1. Leadership perspectives ... 11

1.2.2. Identity and leadership development ... 14

1.2.3. Educational leadership... 15

1.2.4. What about management...? ... 16

1.3: Research focus and aims ... 18

1.3.1. The research statement ... 18

1.3.2. The research questions ... 18

1.4: Overview of the chapters ... 19




This research is interested in the study of leadership identity from sociological traditions, as a reciprocal relationship between self and society (Stets and Burke, 2003; Holland et al, 1998). As ‘a social and cultural lens emphasizes leadership discourse, communication,

and relational stances’ (Fairhurst, 2011:495), this research is underpinned by

constructionist and dialogical perspectives and draws on a sociocultural lens through a narrative inquiry to explore the oral life histories of three education practitioners who have held organisational leadership roles throughout their careers. It offers an exploration of leadership identity that is uncommon across leadership and management development (LMD) debates and the educational leadership field, aiming to contribute insights to the development of leadership practice and the contexts of its enactment. Leadership, as a vastly debated and heavily researched concept, is an interdisciplinary area of study with discussion across ‘mainstream’ fields such as organisation theory, management science, and human resources, as well as across the humanities and the social sciences, including fields such as psychology, political science, economics, and education (Carroll et al, 2015; Gunter, 2012b; Gronn, 2011; Grint, 2005a). The study of identity from sociological traditions is a developing perspective amongst leadership scholars in more recent times (Ford, 2015a, Alvesson, 2011). Despite this growing interest, research following these perspectives is limited across mainstream fields and the humanities, including education (Carroll, 2015; Western, 2013; Sinclair, 2011). With a long history of debate, leadership has remained a rather contested topic (Day and Atonakis, 2012). Before briefly exploring major perspectives across leadership debates to situate the context of this research, my rationale and motivations for this study will be introduced along with my own background. This chapter then moves to outline the research focus and questions that have directed this study before closing with a chapter reading guide.




Rationale for the study

Throughout my personal and professional experiences, I have always been intrigued by the similarities and differences of leadership practice across different contexts and cultures. My undergraduate and postgraduate studies in leadership and management, and in education, along with my academic practice and time spent in leadership roles across various organisations, have contributed to my interests over the years. This has been especially based around how people come to learn, understand and practice leadership my interest in in human development and professional practice as developed.

1.1.1. My background

After around a decade of working within leadership and management roles, predominantly in the not-for-profit and education sectors from middle to senior management level, I moved into Higher Education (HE) taking on a lecturing role in education business management earning fellowship of the Higher Education Academy through the postgraduate study of academic practice. My professional experience includes cross-cultural work, having lived and worked in England and Australia, with time spent in a variety of organisational settings across different sectors, including: Higher Education (HE) as an academic and programme leader; compulsory state schooling as a business manager and senior school leader; childhood education and care as a senior manager; community focused charities as an administrator, manager and project co-ordinator; and consultancy work in leadership and management development in the vocational education and training sector.


.1.2. My motivations and interests

I began my doctoral research journey as I moved into academic practice, inspired by my colleagues and fellow researchers and my continued interest in leadership development. This thesis is therefore a continuation and deepening of my journey to understand more about leadership practice, learning and development, particularly in relation to culture and context and how this influences practice. I was introduced to a variety of perspectives in the early stages of the doctoral programme, including


discourse analysis, social theories of self and society and psychoanalysis. Despite an initial interest in psychological perspectives, I began to focus on exploring identity from sociological traditions in light of growing interest in this approach entering leadership debate (e.g. Alvesson, 2011; Carroll and Levy, 2010; Fairhurst, 2009; Grint, 2005a). As I engaged increasingly with sociological readings of self and society, such as through the work of George H. Mead (1934), Kenneth J. Gergen (e.g. 2009; 1996) and Vivien Burr (e.g. 2003), I found my interest moving towards sociocultural theory as I increasingly reflected on my own leadership development as a practitioner, as well anecdotal accounts from colleagues and students I have worked with. I began to view identity as integral to leadership practice which, through ongoing experience, is continually developed over time. As I deepened my understanding of sociological traditions around identity, Holland et al’s (1998) ‘Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds’ (figured worlds) became a key text within this research due to its sociocultural framework on identity in practice. As chapter two (literature review and theoretical framework) explores, Holland et al (1998) bring together perspectives from cultural studies, anthropology, social psychology, social constructivism, linguistics, sociology and sociohistorical schools of thought around learning and social development to explore identity.

Holland et al (1998) draw on Bakhtinian, Vygotskian and Bourdieusian notions to discuss identity development as they argue for a perspective that frames identity as a performance of multiple selves in social worlds, continually developed through social engagement over time and discursively influenced by cultural models, relations of power and social positions of status and privilege. Therefore, through Holland et al’s (1998) framework, identity is argued within this research as constantly reforming in practice, where performances respond to various discursive social scripts, yet can also develop over time as new ways of being are learned and improvised which can present new possibilities for practice. Hence, it appreciates leadership practice as an on-going development of identity work in contexts of practice, whereby those contexts are influential to and influenced by identity work, thus underpinning the reciprocal relationship between self and society (Holland et al, 1998). Overall, as a leadership and management educator, Holland et al’s (1998) theoretical framework appeals to me as it facilitates the appreciation of a wide range of perspectives that encourages reflexivity and development in leadership practice, as chapter two will explore further.




Situating the context of research

As noted at the start of this chapter, leadership is a highly contested concept, with several major perspectives growing in mainstream debates that conceptualise leadership in different ways. It is useful to offer a brief overview of some perspectives here, to outline terms that the chapter two and chapter three (methodology) will traverse, and to help situate this research in the leadership debate.

Functionalist, constructionist, dialogical and critical perspectives will be briefly explored before moving to an overview of current thinking around identity, educational leadership and development as relevant to this research before moving to outline the focus of this research and its questions.


.2.1. Leadership perspectives Functionalist perspectives

Although leadership is a highly contested topic, with many competing discourses, there is growing consensus amongst scholars around the dominance of ‘functionalist’ leadership thinking across wider debates (Western, 2013; Ford et al, 2010). ‘Functionalist’ perspectives, sometimes referred to as normative, traditional or classical theories, focus on individualistic leader-centric approaches (Carroll, 2015) and place emphasis on the ‘function’ of leadership, concerned with effectively achieving outputs or outcomes, rather than on the process of it. Therefore, leadership has predominantly been understood in performative terms based around organisational success and the performance of ‘effective leaders’, placing much attention to the ‘leader’ role historically (Crevani, 2015; Morrison, 2013; Mabey, 2013; Alvesson and Spicer 2011). However, there is increasing criticism of these discourses as leadership is increasingly argued as a social process within organisations, that are themselves argued as complex social realities (Collison, 2011; Fairhurst, 2011; Bligh, 2011; Alvesson, 2011; Cunliffe, 2009). In terms of this criticism, there is growing debate around the performative influence of such discourses to practice through increasing pressure on practitioners to


produce a distinct fixed leadership identity, which is usually rhetorically posited through moralising, and often heroic, masculinized discourses (Ford, 2015b; Collinson, 2011; Lumby and English, 2009; Sinclair, 2007) as chapter two will explore.

Constructionist perspectives

Social constructionism is a concept that draws on multiple ideas and an array of perspectives and methods, as discussed in depth by Burr (2015), and Gergen (2009), and by Fairhurst and Grant (2010) specifically in relation to leadership. As chapter 2 and 3 will explore, social constructionism ‘rejects the notion of absolute truth and objectivity

in favour of the plurality of meaning’ (Ford, 2015a:243). Hence, there is no objective

‘truth’ to leadership as meaning is subjective and understood as socially and culturally constructed and reproduced through social interaction (Fairhurst and Grant, 2010; Ospina et al, 2012b; Grint, 2010a). This is important to leadership practice as it argues individuals and social worlds are interwoven whereby leadership is a relational social process and must be understood in context in relation to historical and cultural symbolic meaning, which is contested and under constant negotiation (Burr, 2015; Mabey, 2013; Fairhurst and Grant, 2010; Grint, 2000). Therefore, leadership identity is understood as a socially constructed performance negotiated in the contexts of social worlds (Mabey 2013; Gergen, 2009).

Dialogical perspectives

Dialogical perspectives often draw on social constructionism and poststructuralist thinking (Carroll, 2015). Poststructuralism is a perspective emerging in leadership debate (Carroll, 2015; Ford, 2015a) and is primarily concerned with the significance of context and the role of discourse and language in constructing and shaping social practice (Burr, 2015; Ford, 2015a). As realities are socially and culturally constructed (sociocultural), multiple ‘truths’ (discourses) compete for dominance, negotiated in contexts of cultural and historical (sociohistorical) significance where discourses are the very ‘tools that build the self in contexts of power’ (Holland et al, 1998:27). Dialogical perspectives then consider leadership as interactive and ‘in-dialogue’ as on-going


negotiation of identity performance, which is contextually and discursively influenced (Ford, 2015a; Burr, 2015). Dialogical perspectives are also interested in how identities are constructed, regulated and disciplined through discursive expectations (Carroll, 2015; Mabey, 2013; Fairhurst and Grant, 2010). As discourse ‘is a site of variability,

disagreement and potential conflict’ (Burr, 2015:63), the focus is then on identity as a

dialogical performance of the self, which is fragmented, fluid and contradictory (Ford, 2015a; Mabey, 2013; Fairhurst and Grant, 2010). Therefore, dialogical perspectives are focused on the messy, paradoxical and conflictual nature of practice in social worlds and how these practices have come about through discursive means (Mabey, 2013).

Critical perspectives

Critical perspectives, also known as critical leadership studies ‘CLS’, or critical theory ‘CT’ (Ford, 2015a; Western, 2013; Collison, 2011; Fairhurst and Grant, 2010) is also a growing area of debate within leadership studies. Being critical is to ‘take a more radical,

reflective and questioning stance’ (Western, 2013:5) that unsettles, and challenges

‘taken-for-granted’ notions from mainstream functionalist traditions. Critical perspectives are quite diverse, often drawing on social constructionist and poststructuralist thinking to question social, cultural and historical conditions and unveiling power dynamics in leadership practice (Ford, 2015a; Western, 2013; Ospina et al (2012a). The focus is often on notions of knowledge-production, power and resistance, in looking for new possibilities through the implications of social action (Western, 2013; Mabey, 2013). Thus, critical perspectives often explore matters at wider societal macro-level through issues of social positioning and the basis and purpose of knowledge-production at wider state, policy and sector level (Ford, 2015a). The aim is to explore implications of policy, power and social structure on practitioners and the influences of this to identity regulation as they seek to challenge orthodoxy and bring about systemic change (Ford, 2015a; Mabey, 2013; Western, 2013; Gunter, 2009; 2012a).



.2.2. Identity and leadership development

As this research understands identity as socially constructed and developed in practice over time through experience – as heuristically developed (Holland et al, 1998) – it is thus intrinsically linked to leadership development. Development and Learning are increasingly argued as integral aspects of leadership, whereby learning is understood as acquiring knowledge and skills, and development is understood as to advance, expand and grow over time (Carroll, 2015). As Day et al (2014) argues, leadership practice is a longitudinal process of human development involving a complex set of processes, hence there is a ‘need to focus on development as much as leadership to shed light on how this

process unfolds’ (2014:64). Therefore, as Holland et al’s (1998) conception of identity

appreciates human development in this way, as a heuristic development of leader-selves in practice over time, as Gee (2011) argues, it is a helpful way to frame identity to understand leadership and development in practice.

The major perspective historically drawn upon in much leadership development literature and research follows dominant functionalist leadership discourses and is focused on the ‘leader’ role and the cognitive functions of individuals in that role (Day and Sin, 2011; Mabey and Finch-Lees, 2008). Other perspectives are beginning to emerge, including the study of identity and reflexivity is increasingly argued for (Carroll, 2015; Day et al, 2014; Mabey, 2013). Reflexivity involves going beyond self-reflection to explore and unsettle taken-for-granted assumptions about discourse, practice and the world (Cunliffe, 2009). In taking this approach it can illuminate the ‘tension, struggle,

and ambiguity of leadership identity construction processes’ (Fairhurst and Grant,

2010:192) placing the emphasis on on-going development.

Following Simkins (2012), throughout this study I use the term ‘leadership and management development’, abbreviated often as LMD, to refer to leadership learning and development. This includes both ‘developing individual leaders and developing

effective leadership processes’ (Day et al, 2014:64) through formal activities like

qualifications, accredited programmes of study and training, and informal activities, such as on-the-job training, mentoring and coaching, evaluation and consultancy, personal study and reflection and so forth.



.2.3. Educational Leadership

Leadership is very much a part of the global education policy language and the increasing complexities of providing high quality education standards is increasingly cited across sectors in the education field (Napier, 2014; Ball, 2013; Gunter, 2001). Debate around turbulence and uncertainty is increasing in across the field internationally in light of globalisation, policy reforms, funding changes and increasing market competition (Shapiro and Woods, 2015; Bolden et al, 2014; Apple, 2010; Glatter, 2009; Bryman, 2007). Hence, a point of interest for this research is how leadership is understood alongside this sense of uncertainty and complexity within education, in what is increasingly discussed as a rapidly changing context (Morrison, 2013; Fullan and Scott, 2009). These issues, and the importance of education in society, have been explored in depth within different sectors, such as by Fullan (e.g. 2010; 2003), Apple (e.g. 2012; 2010), Ball (e.g. 2013; 2012; 2010), Gunter (e.g. 2013a; 2012b; 2001b) and Glatter (e.g. 2012; 2009).

Leadership thinking across sectors in education historically draws from ‘mainstream’ fields, such as organisational theory and management, predominantly relying on functionalist discourses (Bush, 2011). Therefore, in education, leadership has been placed hand-in-hand with effectiveness as ‘the’ way to improve education standards as Simkins (2012), Bolden et al (2012), Fitzgerald and Gunter (2008) and Bush (2008) argue. This is a trend that is a reflected internationally in education as leadership is attuned to notions of education reform as a mechanism for change (Gunter, 2013a; Apple, 2011; Ball, 2010). The importance of this here is in relation to how leadership is essentialised in education, positing ‘leaders’ as ‘effective’ change-agents in a performative sense, leading educational improvements for better outcomes, yet is increasingly cited as difficult in the complexity of education provision and the growing turbulence cited across the field (Woods and Simkins, 2014; Morrison, 2013; Gunter, 2012b; Ball, 2010; 2006). Indeed, as an increasing tension within practice, functionalist prescriptions that do not appreciate context were cited across the education field globally as a dilemma at the 2015 British Educational, Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) conference. Many presenters articulated the need to explore practitioner experiences of conflicting discourses of values and ethics as they raised the increasing complexity


faced within education systems from different country contexts. This was in addition to many arguments for the need to critically explore the impact of policy on role expectations and the influence of power, discourse and knowledge production in increasingly changing policy contexts. Indeed, educational leadership ‘is a crowded and

busy terrain [...] in terms of policy texts that seek to redefine roles and tasks in schools as leadership’ (Gunter, 2009:94).

Therefore, exploring the very nature of ‘reality’ and the conflicts and paradoxes that exist around ethics and values is argued as increasingly important across the education field globally (Torrence and Humes, 2015; Hammersley-Fletcher, 2015; Hatcher, 2012, Gunter, 2012; Hartley 2007). Indeed, research into practitioner lived experience is increasingly being called for to help to provide rich accounts and insights into practice and context, as a way to explore these tensions (Simkins, 2012). Hence, approaches that appreciate dialogical, reflexive and critical exploration of practice, identity, context and leadership development are being increasingly argued for within the field (e.g. by Woods and Simkins, 2014; Simkins, 2012; Close and Raynor, 2010).


.2.4. What about management...?

When discussing leadership throughout this thesis, particularly during the analysis of practitioner narratives, the term ‘management’ often comes into play. Historically, as Ladkin (2015) explains, leadership often dominates as a preferred term within mainstream literature, having evolved from ‘management’ to ‘leadership’ from the 1990s. The two terms are often used interchangeably within education language from a global perspective, appearing also as ‘administration’ and ‘management’ across sectors and contexts, with ‘leadership’ the dominant term in England (Gunter, 2012; Bush, 2011).

As the focus here is on leadership identity work, and the debate around management and leadership has been had elsewhere (e.g. Western, 2013; Bush, 2011; Hallinger, 2003, Crawford, 2003; Blackmore, 1999; Glatter, 1999), it is felt unnecessary to discuss the debate between the two at any length here, however, it is useful to briefly acknowledge the discursive interplay between the two concepts when it comes to the


functioning of organisations (Crawford, 2014). In mainstream discourse, leadership is often linked to notions of change, chaos, unpredictability and creativity; management to notions of control, stability, coordinating and organising through rational responses to known problems (Carroll et al, 2015; Ladkin, 2015; Bush, 2011; Western, 2013; Grint, 2005b). Furthermore, leadership is often linked to softer or covert forms of power, like influence, whereas management is often linked to harder or more overt forms of power, such as position power and authority-based structures of control (Carroll et al, 2015; Western, 2013; Weber, 1978). As Western (2013) argues, management can often be seen as the derogatory ‘other’ to leadership illuminating a discursive and contextually driven set of assumptions around what happens in the functioning of organisations, which comes back to discourse and power. In fields where ‘managerialism’ or forms of bureaucratic control create tensions to practitioner creativity and agency, such as argued increasingly within compulsory education (e.g. by Courtney and Gunter, 2015; Woods et al, 2013; Gunter et al, 2012) as chapter 2 will explore, the concept of ‘management’ can be seen as a form of control through imposing discourses of power that are understood as constraining practice. As Karlberg argues:

As a relational force, power constructs social organization and hierarchy by producing discourses and truths, by imposing discipline and order, and by shaping human desires and subjectivities

(Karlberg, 2005:4)

The power of discourse is important, as Karlberg highlights, as it shapes what individuals think and what individuals can do. Indeed, words like ‘leadership’ and ‘leader’ and ‘management’ and ‘manager’ do and say things to persons within the world and are not benign as words alone (Ford and Harding, 2008). The influence of discourse is a theme throughout this thesis which will be revisited in chapter 2. Overall, management and leadership as concepts are both understood here as important to organisational function (Western, 2013; Yukl, 2013; Bush, 2011) and as interrelated and necessary to one another, as Crawford (2003) argues, yet the meaning between the two is appreciated as discursive and contextually driven. Thus, when leadership is discussed throughout this thesis, particularly educational leadership, this does not negate the importance, nor the influence and presence, of management in organisational life and leadership identity work.




Research focus and aims

This section briefly outlines a summary of the research and the research questions that guide this study. The statement of research, below, is presented as a reminder at various sections of this thesis to aid the discussion, including; the data analysis chapter introduction and the final chapter, where the research questions are answered.


.3.1. The research statement

This research is interested in the exploration of leadership identity as a relationship between self and society. Appreciating leadership as a discursively influenced social construction, situated in the social worlds of organisations, this study is a narrative inquiry, drawing on a sociocultural lens – Holland et al’s (1998) identity in practice – to appreciate the importance of social constructivism, dialogism and relations of power in identity construction and leadership practice.

Through the analysis of practitioner stories, its aim is to offer an exploration of leadership identity that contributes to the growing body of knowledge within leadership and management development (LMD) research, wider leadership debates, and the educational leadership field.


.3.2. The research Questions

1. What do stories of leadership practice offer as influential to the construction and development of leadership identity?

2. What insights does the study of identity, from a sociocultural perspective, offer to wider leadership and management development debates, that informs the educational leadership field?




Overview of the chapters

This chapter (one) has introduced the research context, how this research is situated within leadership studies and the educational leadership field, offered the rationale and motivations for the study and outlined the research focus and questions.

Chapter two (Discussion of literature and theory) is organised into two main sections. Firstly, it explores leadership as a wide discourse and secondly, it discusses the theoretical stance on identity taken in this research through Holland et al’s (1998) identity in practice theory drawing on key aspects of the framework that inform the data analysis. Outlining how this approach can help explore leadership identity work, it argues this lens as a relatively uncommon approach in leadership identity study. Indeed, the study of identity from critical sociocultural perspectives, like figured worlds, is limited across the wider debates, and particularly limited in educational leadership discussions, thus outlining what it could add to the field.

Chapter three (Methodology) discusses the methodological approach of the research. Outlining the exploration of lived experience through narrative inquiry, it discusses the methods of data collection and the analytical approach – thematic analysis – offering reflections on the approach taken and how the data is arranged, interpreted and read. The chapter also discusses the reflexivity of the study, its multi-vocality and co-constructed nature, and outlines the ethical considerations taken along with a discussion of my position as the researcher.

Chapter four (Data analysis) as the largest section of thesis, is broken down into several sub-chapters to aid the flow and coherence of the analysis. It begins with an introductory sub-chapter, with a reminder of the research focus and questions, and introduces the participants, Vivienne, Patrick and James, through brief contextual statements that outline their backgrounds to situate them within the context of the research. Five further sub-chapters then follow which explore their stories thematically through the themes that emerged during the data analysis phase. This chapter then concludes with a brief summary that leads the reader into the final chapter of the thesis.


Chapter five (Conclusion and reflections) is the final chapter of the thesis and offers an overview of the research. The first section of the chapter highlights the main findings in relation to the research questions outlining the contributions and implications the research offers to the educational leadership field and broader LMD discussions and outlines further work that would be useful to undertake in order to expand on this research. Bringing this thesis to a close, the second section of the chapter offers my conclusions and reflections on the research, and my own learning journey and development through the EdD, along with some future areas of interest developed through the research.

Following chapter five are the references and appendices. The appendices provide supplemental chapter information, where relevant, as referred to by each chapter, including the participant invitation and ethical consent information.

Chapter Summary

Overall, leadership has been introduced here as a contested concept, with many streams of discussion, and my focus has been situated within developing contemporary and critical debates as constructionist and dialogical. The rationale for the study reflects my own professional and academic development and interests as well as considering how this research can contribute the debates within LMD research and educational leadership. Chapter two (review of literature and theory), which follows, further supports the research aims, by deepening understanding of the relevant leadership thinking and the theoretical framework on identity in practice.


Chapter Two

Discussion of literature and theory

Chapter Introduction ... 22 2.1. Leadership: reviewing the literature ... 23

2.1.1. Leadership: a constructed and discursive concept ... 24

2.1.2. Dominant discourses of leadership ... 27

2.1.3. Calls for new approaches to leadership thinking and development ... 32

2.1.4. Leadership: summary ... 38 2.2. Identity in practice: framing a sociocultural perspective ... 39

2.2.1. The study of identity: an overview ... 39

2.2.2. Identity and agency in cultural worlds ... 41

2.2.3. Researching leadership identity in practice ... 54

2.2.4. Identity in practice: summary ... 57



Discussion of literature and theory

Chapter Introduction

This chapter discusses the findings from an academic review of leadership and identity literature and explores the theoretical framework employed within this research. These discussions are organised into two sections: Leadership: reviewing the literature; and

Identity in practice: framing a sociocultural perspective.

Firstly, in section one (leadership), the findings from the academic literature review of leadership theory, research and debate is discussed, drawn from mainstream leadership discussions across several fields including: management science, organisational studies and human resources; and communications, humanities and the social sciences, including psychology and sociology, as well as the educational leadership field.

Secondly, in section 2.2, the study of identity is explored, firstly by briefly discussing how leadership literature has conceptualised identity, then secondly moves to explore the theoretical framework on identity from Holland et al’s (1998) key text: Identity and

Agency in Cultural Worlds discussing how this can be useful for exploring leadership


The chapter then comes to a close with a brief summary of the main points raised and moves on to chapter three: methodology.




Leadership: reviewing the literature

Despite the vast amount of research conducted, leadership cannot be universally defined and there are many contradicting discourses around it. As Day and Atonakis (2012) argue, this has become an increasing consensus across many leadership scholars e.g. Ford et al (2015a), Yukl (2013), Alvesson and Spicer (2011), Fairhurst (2009), Uhl-Bien et al (2012) and Grint (2005a). Thus, as a socially constructed and contested concept, the multiple discourses that discuss leadership take particular stances on understanding and positing its practice, which were highlighted in the introductory chapter (chapter one): functionalist, constructionist, dialogical and critical. To explore these many discourses of leadership, this section of the chapter is broken down into three sub-sections, ending with a summary before moving to the second part of the chapter.

The first sub-section (2.1.1) highlights leadership as a discursive concept, articulating what is meant by ‘discourse’ here in this research. It explores how leadership has become embedded in societal and institutionalized thinking due to the dominance of functionalist thinking, particularly around notions attached to the leader role, as briefly highlighted in the introductory chapter.

The second sub-section (2.1.2) then moves to a discussion around dominant discourses of leadership and leadership and management development (LMD) appear historically as predominantly functionalist in perspective with a strong presence in mainstream studies, such as organisational theory and management.

The third sub-section (2.1.3) explores contemporary discussions developing across leadership debates, emerging predominantly from the social sciences drawing on constructionist, dialogical and critical perspectives as noted in the introductory chapter. These debates are explored in relation to the often discursive notions posited by functionalist perspectives and this section highlights the current calls for contemporary perspectives within LMD research and educational leadership that appreciate complexity and fluidity in practice. A brief summary (2.1.4) then closes this section, moving the chapter to the second section, 2.2: Identity: a sociocultural perspective.


2.1.1. Leadership: a constructed and discursive concept

Before discussing the various dominant discourses historically and currently present across the leadership debate, and the developing emerging perspectives, the term ‘discourse’ is briefly outlined to explain the stance taken on what is meant by the term. The study of discourse is a widely debated area across the social sciences employing various theories and analytical approaches. Therefore, it is important to briefly explain what is meant by discourse in the context of this research and how it relates to leadership practice. Discourse often refers to communication, such as the study of linguistics, language and text (Gee, 2011). However, discourse can also relate to ways of thinking, being and acting in the world through common shared assumptions, expectations and perceptions (Western, 2013). It is the latter, which is of interest here as discourse is argued to imply ‘an institutionalised way of thinking – a taken-for-granted

(or normative) way of being’ (Western, 2013:512). Following the perspectives of

Western (2013), Gee (e.g. 2011), Butler (e.g. 2004) and Fairhurst (e.g. 2009; 2011) discourse in this sense defines the limits of what is acceptable within practice and what is not (Butler, 2004). In taking Butler’s view, the influence of leadership discourse to everyday life offers that this involves an orchestration of specific acts and imitations that embody notions of what doing leadership involves, such as being a ‘leader’, as meaningful within particular contexts. The importance of acknowledging the meaning of discourse here is because ‘leadership has its own discourses, which shape how we

think about leadership’ (Western, 2008:149). As Holland et al offer:

‘socially constructed selves... are subject to positioning by whatever

powerful discourses they happen to encounter... [this] conceives that discourses and practices to be the tools that build the self in contexts of power, rather than of stable interpretations of world and values that have been imparted to the person through enculturation.’

(Holland et al, 1998:27)

As leadership scholars such as Fairhurst (2009) and Crevani et al (2010) argue, leadership is highly discursive and performative and in this sense ‘performativity draws on the

notion that words are not just words, they do things’ Cunliffe (2009:10). Thus, discourses


practitioners think about leadership through how they accept, challenge or resist specific embodiments of it. As Cunliffe (2011) further argues, these normative assumptions (norms) influence the construction of leadership identities as individuals seek to become ‘a certain kind of person’ (Gee, 2011:30) in leadership worlds. This idea of norms and discourse are part of the underpinning argument within Holland et al’s (1998) identity in practice – figured worlds – which will be explored in more depth section 2.2.2. This prelude to the importance of discourse leads now to highlight the influence of functionalist and individualistic thinking across leadership literature before moving to a brief exploration of the dominant discourses historically present throughout academic literature (sub-section 2.1.2).

Over 30 years ago, Meindl et al (1985:78) expressed the concern that leadership was

‘largely elusive and enigmatic...’ with ‘highly romanticized, heroic views of leadership’

often present from observers and participants of organisational life. Within this romanticized construct the role of ‘leader’ has often been posited through notions of greatness, righteousness, charisma, strength, resilience, courage, self-sacrifice, vision, fearlessness and invulnerability (Ford, 2015a; Ladkin, 2010). There has been much attention to strong narratives as rather fixed notions attached to leader effectiveness often linked to the achievement of organisational success, change and transformation (Sinclair, 2011; Ladkin, 2010; Malby, (2007). This is particularly present within discourses from industry aimed at organisational business leaders where prominent leaders have become brands and role-models with their particular attributes linked to organisational success (McLaren, 2013). Furthermore, this is also a strong moralising discourse within wider society through how leaders appear in popular culture through media, advertising and entertainment (Western, 2013; McLaren, 2010).

At a broader societal level, leaders are often caricatured as heroes or villains based on their ability to achieve success for the endeavours they lead, appearing often as stories of ‘good or bad’ leaders (Bligh et al, 2011; Collinson, 2011; Ladkin, 2010; Sinclair, 2007). In this sense, leadership appears as having ‘colonized many fields of social endeavour

ranging from... large corporations to self-direction in everyday life’ (Alvesson and Spicer,

2012:384). The importance of highlighting this, is that wider discourse is a powerful wide-ranging story, spanning many life-worlds evolving through time and thus constituting what has become a ‘societal discourse around leadership’ (Crevani et al,


2010:78). Indeed, leadership has ‘deep societal significance...with its own myths such as

the ‘great leader’ (Crawford, 2003:63). Thus, many powerful narratives around the

purpose, function and enactment of the leader role are argued as commonplace across literature and practice (e.g. Alvesson and Spicer, 2012; Ladkin, 2010; Fairhurst, 2009; Meindl et al, 1985). These narratives, as several scholars term (e.g. Ford, 2015; Carroll 2015) have become embedded within various discourses of leadership with many asserting this as ‘the’ prescribed way to practice leadership as a leader within organisations (Western, 2013; Fairhurst, 2011; Grint 2005a). The prescribed ‘greatness’ often attached to leadership, reflects practitioners’ attempts to navigate the many narratives and expectations placed upon them in the face of a still powerful simplistic ‘one-size-fits-all hero leader’ discourse (Western, 2013:226). Therefore, wide discursive influences and societal notions are important to note as the assumptions attached to leadership and role of ‘leaders’ are interwoven through many life-worlds (Crevani et al, 2007; Grint, 2005a). Moreover,

‘the right man at the top answer emerges frequently in our society... it will be hard for research to overcome the myths about the power of leaders to change organisational outcomes, because leadership has become so romanticised within our society.’

(Malby, 2007:3)

As Malby suggests, research is still challenged by this story as it appears as overly dominant in many debates as functionalist perspectives are still a societal way of conceptualising leadership (Ford, 2015b). As Grint (2011) argues, these myths and narratives around ‘the leader at the top’ often perceive that persons within those roles are the ones who can solve every problem as they have all the answers and will tell others what to do. These notions often place leaders as the overarching force within organisations underpinning hierarchical roles, top-down approaches and positions of formal authority, often placing followers often in subservient roles (Bligh et al, 2011). Furthermore, as Ford argues, leadership discourses often contain ‘strong elements of

masculinity that that act to strengthen male identities’ which reproduce ‘asymmetrical gender relations in organisational life’ (2015a:243). As Ford further argues, much

literature emphasises leader identity as a ‘masculine competitive, aggressive, controlling

and self-reliant individualist’ (2015a:243) notion. Indeed, as Sinclair and Evans (2015)


been often ‘dominated by masculine norms, such as valuing heroism and stoicism’ and thus rejecting vulnerability and weakness. (Sinclair and Evans, 2015:139). Hence, there is still a powerful narrative of a ‘perfect being or super-hero model’ leader (Ford, 2015a:248) and continued pressure on practitioners to produce a distinct fixed leadership identity, which is becoming more problematic in the increasing complex and ambiguous social worlds of leadership practice (Sinclair, 2011; Lumby and English, 2009). These criticisms will be explored further, in section 2.1.3 (calls for new approaches...). Overall, it is impossible to ignore the many ways in which leadership appears and is enacted in everyday life hence the acknowledgement of this here in this section. Next, the following sub-section (2.1.2) will briefly explore the dominant discourses appearing throughout the literature review across several fields to gain a sense of historic and current influences to how it has been understood and researched and thus influences practice.


.1.2: Dominant discourses of leadership

There has been much attention given to connections between leader effectiveness and organisational success through ‘the primary question of what makes an effective leader’ (Collinson, 2011:182). However, the answer to this question has remained somewhat elusive (Day and Atonakis, 2012). Many approaches have sought to define the attributes, traits and behaviours as to what makes a great leader (Grint, 2011; Sinclair, 2007), e.g. trait/character theories, situational and contingency theories and psychometric testing. This focus on effectiveness has often been for the pursuit of efficiency and organisational success. For instance, Western (2013) describes this as ‘the controller’ discourse where the purpose of leadership can be understood as the ‘control of

resources to maximise efficiency’ (2013:158). This discourse appeared as particularly

dominant during the twentieth century during industrialisation, particularly through bureaucratic and scientific management theories such as Fordism and Taylorism and notions of Weberian bureaucracy (Handy, 1993; Weber, 1978). However, as Western (2013) asserts, this discourse is now currently more recognisable within audit and target cultures driven by accountability and improvement agendas through the use of performance measures. Within industry and business, stories of organisational success


and improvement are prevalent (Malby, 2007). This is also seen within academic literature from the education field where leadership has become a particularly dominant discourse, for instance in the UK since the 1990s, due to its increasing association with transformational change (Ball, 2012).

As chapter one (introduction) noted, leadership has become part of education policy language (Gunter, 2009) and as within business and industry, leadership has been placed hand-in-hand with notions of effectiveness as ‘the’ way to improve education standards, particularly in compulsory schooling in England for example (Ball, 2010). Also reflected internationally in the education field, as Gunter (2012b) and Morrison (2013) highlight, leadership is attuned to notions of education reform as a mechanism for change. Indeed, international comparisons of educational achievement have resulted in an increasing sense of performance competition in a more globalised education market, as Torrance and Humes (2015) argue. This has meant that leadership has become a strong rhetoric within political climates linked to education reform and seen as a way to drive economic transformations. Yet this often ‘exists in a vacuum’ as Apple (2011:29-30) argues as this rhetoric does not consider the influence of broader social structures of power, instead looking predominantly to institutionalised education policies that are seen as the answer to societal issues of inequality. For instance, as many scholars highlight (e.g. Ball, 2013; 2012; Apple, 2012; Lumby, 2009; Gunter, 2012b; 2014), the pressures articulated by practitioners in school settings are increasing as political agenda continues to place expectations on school leaders to continually improve institutions through performance measures and popular discourses of leadership practice. As Morrison (2013) highlights, struggles ensue as practitioners are expected to continually sustain broad performance standards at the same time as transforming their schools in local settings through a continuous flow of new ideas. As Apple (2012; 2010) argues, this is set within wider assumptions that institutional policies will solve wider social issues, which create tensions in local settings where responses require variation.

Indeed, a considerable historical focus on the role of leadership and change is present across literature through theories such as transformational and charismatic leadership, which is underpinned by rather strong and romanticised notions of what leaders do (Collinson, 2011). The term ‘heroic leadership’ is often used to describe this within


literature and, as discussed in the last section, it has received much criticism due to unrealistic and unsustainable expectations of leaders e.g. by Carroll et al (2015), Alvesson (2015; 2011), Ladkin (2010), Fairhurst (2009), Ford (2006), and Grint (e.g. 2011;2005b). Western (2013) subsumes the many discourses that posit leader ideals as ‘The Messiah’ discourse of leadership which he argues is focused on building strong cultures and visions yet still asserts the presence of a ‘heroic’ leader (Western, 2013:226). Within these transformational and ‘messiah’ discourses, leaders are often portrayed as providing strong direction to subservient followers through charismatic performances for the purpose of achieving new levels of success (Grint, 2005a). This romanticised performance is increasingly criticised as difficult to sustain (e.g. Malby, 2007 and Ford, 2015b; 2006) with the potential for negative forms of narcissism to grow that can create destructive tendencies and dysfunctional cultures within organisations (Tourish, 2013; Grint, 2011; Bolden, 2007; Kets de Vries, 2014; 2006b; 2005). In response to the increasing concern around narcissistic cultures in organisations (O’Reilly et al, 2014; Kets de Vries and Balasz, 2011) discourses around corporate social responsibility and moral leadership grew considerably during the last decade whereby issues of leader authenticity, resilience, values and ethics have been argued in juxtaposition to notions of charisma, invulnerability and vision (Board, 2016; Tourish, 2013). As Western (2013) asserts, authenticity within leadership can be understood as a new breed of introverted heroic leader, as a ‘humble leader’ (2013:47) and despite claiming very different approaches, these still emphasise leaders and their actions in functionalist ways. This appears through prescriptive notions of self-assessment and the resilience, ethics, values and emotions a leader should possess and how they ‘ought to

behave’ (Brown and Trevino, 2006:596).

Similarly, notions of servant leadership whereby the leader places the needs of follower first have emerged as a values-driven discourse around self-sacrifice, often presenting leadership behaviour and qualities at the forefront (Greenleaf, 2002). As Tourish (2013) argues, these moral and ethical discourses have often positioned moral, authentic and servant forms of leadership as a ‘steward’ of sorts to govern the potential impact that organisations could have on wider society. However, they have still placed considerable pressure on the role of leaders through notions of ‘good’, ‘great’ and ‘successful’ with underpinning values remaining as a social construction of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as argued


by Advares-Yorno (2016), Grint (2011) and Alvesson (2011). However, As Tourish (2013) argues, there is limited attention paid to the values that underpin practice. Instead, as Tourish (2013) argues, LMD discourse has primarily focused ways to create a desired image by positing uncontested ‘norms’ of what a good authentic leader is and ought to be rather than complicating and deconstructing the contradictory nature of how values actually come to the fore, which will be explored further in the next section (2.1.3). There are also other dominant discourses that consider more the relational aspects of leadership and followership and motivational, coaching and participative forms of leadership (Collinson, 2011). As an interest in followership is growing across leadership debate (Crevani, 2015; Uhl-Bien et al, 2012), these approaches take a more cognitive and behavioural approach to leadership, and as Collinson (2011) further adds, they focus on notions of individualism, personal growth and democracy e.g. transactional leadership, leader-member exchange, coaching and motivation theory. Western (2013) refers to these approaches as ‘The Therapist’ discourse of leadership which he explains asserts a basis that ‘happy workers are more productive workers’ (2013:158) yet explains that these notions again predominantly focus on the role of leaders and what they do to create these cultures. Indeed, despite a growing interest in relational leadership moving away from the leader-centric focus, the dominant view across literature presents followers as subservient and there has been wide criticism for the lack of appreciation of context within relational leadership debates (Collinson, 2011).

Overall, as criticisms of functionalists discourses have grown since the turn of the twenty-first century, leadership has been increasingly argued as a systemic process that cannot sit with any one individual.

As more and more leadership scholars try to think themselves out of or beyond the heroic impulse that came to dominate the field for the last quarter century or so, a number of post-heroic alternatives are currently under consideration

(Gronn, 2011:437)

As Gronn reflects, and Bolden (2016; 2011) also argues, there are a variety of discourses that now argue leadership as shared, collective and dispersed throughout systems and across persons in a wider sense, or as networks and connections as Western explains (2013). Within these more contemporary approaches, as Collinson (2011) explains,


leadership practices are understood as less hierarchical as they consider notions of shared power, which the next section moves to explore shortly (2.1.3). However, before moving to this, a discourse of note here for its popularity and dominance, particularly in English compulsory education sector, is ‘distributed leadership’. Although essentially argued as a social and relational process situated in contexts of activity (Gronn, 2000; Engestrom, 1999; Holland et al, 1998), it has become a popular discourse across leadership debates over the last fifteen years, as political agenda in the education system has positioned distributed notions of leadership within policy language (Lumby, 2013; Gronn, 2010). As Hartley (2010) argues, distributed Leadership has been pushed as ‘the’ way to improve education following the ‘waning’ of more transformational approaches thus pushing a more collaborative story of leadership into schools. However, as Gronn (2015; 2009) explains, distributed leadership is a contested construct experiencing much conceptual confusion in how it can be achieved and analysed. Hence, there is a ‘discursive struggle’ (Fairhurst, 2009:1624) around the concept of distribution, which is echoed by Lumby (2013), and highlighted by Chreim (2015) through her recent study in organisational leadership. In education for example, Fairhurst (2009) argues that this struggle relates to discursive expectations surrounding the accountabilities of school leader and teacher roles in the hierarchical context of the English education system. Furthermore, as Bolden (2009) argues, the role of the English Headteacher as the head of the school has emerged through some studies as a facilitator that must ‘allow’ distributed leadership to flourish. This greatly reflects the dominance of hierarchical ‘top-down’ thinking in education in the England. Therefore, as Gronn (2009; 2011) argues, this conceptual struggle requires a re-thinking of leadership as a ‘configuration’ of different approaches. As there are many discourses of practice within leadership and organisational realities that problematize these approaches, what is then needed, as Western (2013) argues, are approaches that appreciate the existence of multiple discourses in complex realities.

Overall, dominant functionalist thinking within leadership has continually reconstituted a fixed leader identity that does not appreciate the context or complexity of social life in organisations (Fairhurst and Grant, 2010). This is becoming problematic in education as competing and shifting discourses of leadership have created conceptual confusion whereby the meaning of leadership is often inconsistent and contradictory, (Collison,


2011; Day and Atonakis, 2012). This is increasingly argued alongside the increasing appreciation complexity of organisational life as social worlds of competing perspectives, discourses, filled with contestation and contradiction (Bolden, 2016; Torrence and Humes, 2015; Alvesson, 2011). Therefore, trying to create a unified view of how to ‘be’ a leader does not sit well within leadership practice which is a fluid variable social performance, as the more contemporary perspectives argue, which the next sub-section now moves to explore.


.1.3: Calls for new approaches in leadership thinking and development

Through the increasing debate around the complexity of organisational life and the conceptualisation of leadership as a social process, there is ‘a growing orientation to

sociology’ (Hartley, 2010:272) across leadership debates. As noted in chapter one,

streams of literature are emerging in the mainstream debates that looks more towards social constructionist, dialogical and critical perspectives drawing on approaches from the social sciences to understand leadership practice (Fairhurst and Grant, 2010). Before exploring this literature in relation to identity, it is important to note that constructionist approaches can be ‘notoriously diverse’ as Grint and Jackson (2010:3) argue, as noted in chapter one, including a focus on context and discourse in identity construction and regulation (Burr, 2015). There is also an interesting interchange of language appearing through the terms ‘constructionism’ and ‘constructivism’ from works that discuss the social construction of leadership, as Grint (2005b) and Fairhurst and Grant (2010) note which warrants a brief exploration of this here in relation to identity construction. The two terms – constructionism and constructivism – often appear interchangeably in literature exploring the social construction of reality as Burr (2015) and Andrews (2012) argue. As Charmaz (2006) explains, both terms are often placed together under the term ‘constructivism’ which is often associated with the work of Piaget (e.g. 1972) and Vygotsky (e.g. 1978) on social learning and development (Burr, 2015;2003;). Indeed, to argue for their framework on identity in practice, Holland et al (1998) draw heavily on the various works of Vygotsky (e.g. 1978, 1986) when discussing constructivism as an important part of identity construction and the ongoing development of social selves, noting the influence of social constructionist thinking as they draw on Gergen (e.g.